UCSB overcomes big early deficit behind All-Big West guard
UCSB had its slowest start of the basketball season on Thursday, but Max Heidegger had already figured out how to handle bad starts.
The returning All-Big West Conference guard, who found his shooting touch on Saturday in Hawaii, poked the Cal State Northridge Matadors with it for 26 points in a 70-64, comeback victory at the Thunderdome.
“He’s looking like the old Heid to me,” senior forward Jarriesse Blackmon gushed.
The Gauchos (17-5, 6-2 Big West Conference) did have to recover from an 11-0 deficit to beat CSUN (10-14, 4-4) and move into second place in the league race.
“It’s a 40-minute game, and your habits take over,” coach Joe Pasternack said of UCSB’s comeback. “There’s not a lot you can say to a team.
“It’s really a credit to all of them that they just competed for 40 minutes.”
Heidegger scored 17 of his 26 points in the second half. He made 4-of-8 three-pointers in the game, although his drives were also productive, resulting in three other baskets and 8-for-9 foul shooting.
His season-high 26 was coming on the heels of a 20-point performance against Hawaii.
“Obviously, being out that amount of time, it’s tough to come back out of nowhere and be who I was athletically and skill-wise,” said Heidegger, who missed half of the Gauchos’ 22 games this season because of injuries. “But I think it was just a matter of time.”
So was Thursday’s comeback.
Amadou Sow blocked CSUN’s first shot, but the Matadors made their next five in a row — four by freshman sensation Lamine Diane. His three-point play off a back-cut lob put his team ahead 11-0 after barely three minutes.
Diane, the Big West leader in both scoring (24.1 points) and rebounding (11.0), netted 15 of his game-high 28 points in the first 11 minutes.
“Diane is a great player, he’s an NBA player, and he really punched us in the first four minutes,” Pasternack said. “But our guys really responded amazingly well.
“After the first four minutes, we won the following 16 minutes of the first half, and it was all because of our defense.”
Tje Gauchos held the Matadors to just 1-for-21 shooting from the three-point line. Terrell Gomez, who leads the Big West in three-point makes, went 1-for-8 and had his 20-point average cut in half.
“JaQuolri McLaughlin was unbelievable on Gomez,” Pasternack said. “That was a huge part of our defensive game plan.”
Also big was winning the rebounding battle, 39-29, while holding Diane to no offensive rebounds and just five overall.
“Coach told us that his second shot is always his best shot,” Blackmon said. “We saw on film that he’s a monster on the glass.
“Coach was like, ‘Hey, make his shots as tough as possible, and as soon as he gets them up, get underneath him and try to box him out because he’s got quick bounces.’ He’s like a pogo stick.”
Heidegger rallied UCSB with a pair of double-pump runners and a three-pointer from the corner, drawing it to within 26-24. The Gauchos trailed just 29-28 at halftime.
UCSB missed its first two shots of the second half but then made six in a row, three by Sow, to take its first lead of the game. Sow, held by foul trouble to just four points in the first half, scored 12 in the second half to finish with 16. He also had a game-high nine rebounds.
“I got two fouls quick, and so I just went and sat down and thought about the game,” Sow said. “I came back and played as hard as I could without fouling so I could stay in the game.”
Heidegger’s long three in front of his own bench gave the Gauchos a 41-35 lead.
More threes by Ar’Mond Davis and Heidegger, and Davis’ layup off an inbounds pass from Devearl Ramseyu, increased the margin to 49-38.
CSUN rallied to within six points after Gomez scored his team’s next seven points in an outburst that just just 87 seconds, which included the Matadors’ only three-point make of the night.
But Heidegger finished strong, scoring 11 points in the final 5:45 to hold CSUN at bay, and Blackmon helped seal the win with a steal. He finished with two thefts, four assists, five rebounds, and kept Diane away from the backboards.
“To have a complete team, you can’t just have the scorers,” Pasternack said. “They’re the ones who get the headlines, but you have to have the junk-yard dogs, and Jarriesse, man, I’m so proud of how he competed every single possession defensively.”